‘Friends’ turns 20: Who is the sitcom’s greatest character?

On Monday (September 22), it will have been 20 years since Friends made its debut, and the anniversary has got us thinking: which of the sitcom’s six main characters is the greatest?

For some fans of the long-running show, it’s an almost impossible question to answer, but six Attitude writers felt sufficiently attached to one character in particular to argue the case for him or her.

Read the cases below for Ross, Rachel, Phoebe, Chandler, Joey and Janice – only joking, of course we mean Monica – then let us know what you think in the comments section.

Ross Geller (played by David Schwimmer)

Poor Ross. Not only is he a veritable lightning rod for disaster (the lesbian ex-wife, the hockey puck to the face and that teeth-whitening incident), but when I told the rest of the Attitude team he was my favourite ‘Friend’, I was met with looks of – well I can’t put it any other way – utter disgust.

Of course, everyone’s aversion all comes down to that series-altering night with the Xerox girl, and I hold my hands up: yes, Ross cheated on Rachel. Yes, it was totally awful. And yes, he sort of kept refusing to admit that it was totally awful, and that’s quite awful in itself.

But since when was Ross ever a maker of good decisions? Hailed as the golden child by his parents, he lives in a constant state of semi-delusion that his life is all sorted out, so it becomes enormously entertaining when the ideas he has of himself – he’s clever, he’s a good boyfriend, he’s a good father – come crashing down around him with a high pitched squeal. The episode where he gets caught between Rachel’s father and his long-suffering girlfriend Mona is a fucking goldmine; the escalating panic on his besieged face is hysterical – and hugely endearing.

By the final season, most of the Friends had become one-note versions of themselves (I watch most of the last few episodes in increasing surprise that Joey could find his own front door). Only Ross remained as he ever was: goofy, awkward and never quite able to get it right. Hate on him all you want, but there’s a bit of Ross in all of us. There’s just a lot of Ross in Ross. (David Hutchison)

Monica Bing (played by Courteney Cox)

It may be hard to believe now, but Courteney Cox was originally asked to play Rachel. Thankfully, she thought she was better suited to the role of Monica. I can’t imagine anyone else capturing Monica the way Cox did over the show’s ten seasons. The thing about Monica is, she’s the heart of the show. It’s at her apartment that the group come together, and it’s her decision to leave Manhattan with Chandler to raise their family that signals the end of the show (sob).

Monica wasn’t always my favourite ‘Friend’, but as I’ve got older I’ve slowly realised that we’re probably more alike than I’d once have cared to admit. She’s competitive to the point of absolute hysteria, she loves rules (“Rules help control the fun!”), and she can’t abide things being out of place. To some, Monica is probably quite annoying, but for me, her quirks are what make her such a brilliant and nuanced character.

Monica feels like a real person, whereas the likes of Phoebe and Joey – albeit hilarious – often border on the ridiculous and unbelievable. She is much more likeable than her brother, Ross, and far easier to love than Rachel. Her romance with Chandler – although divisive – is the relationship worth getting behind. Ross and Rachel’s on-off romance grew tired after so many seasons, but Monica and Chandler never failed to put a smile on my face. Not to mention, Fat Monica is one of the funniest parts of the entire show. If you can watch this clip without cracking a smile then you need to take a long, hard look in the mirror. (Sam Rigby)

Rachel Green (played by Jennifer Aniston)

Rachel Green is the best ‘Friend’ because in essence, we are all Rachel. She is an amalgamation of flaws rolled into a hot mess of a package that is more true-to-life than most twenty-somethings would willingly admit.

She was socially awkward in college, found no longer having her parent’s monetary support almost impossible at first, and her bid at having a functional relationship with a man usually verged into car crash territory. Her attempts at being a parent were hilarious too: who can forget her rapping about giant asses to a one-year-old, or putting makeup on her daughter, Emma, for a baby pageant?

Her dating life was a mess – right up until the finale when she finally found her lobster in Ross. She made eye-wateringly desperate attempts to get with Joshua (we have all been there); she told Ross’s ex to shave her head all for the purpose of getting him back; and her passive-aggressive attempts at being happy for Ross and Julie were arguably some of the best and most relatable moments of the entire show.

Let’s get this straight; Rachel could be a total bitch at times, but we all knew she had a heart of gold. She was a little unhinged at times, yet she managed to carve a successful career for herself, have a child, and end up with the man of her dreams (as well as the offer of a job in Paris). If that’s not some form of life-affirming message, then I don’t know what is. (Josh Haigh)

Chandler Bing (played by Matthew Perry)

I would argue Chandler to be the best Friends character quite simply because he is the funniest of the lot. Not dumb-funny like Phoebe or Joey; he is intelligent, and loaded with a dry, sarcastic, self-deprecating wit, worthy of the very best disaffected middle aged men on the comedy circuit. A cross between the late Robin Williams and our very own Jack Dee, he’s a character whose wry observations and absolute need to find humour in every little scene not only informed my own sense of humour, but seeped out into the general zeitgeist too.

Furthermore, there’s a strong case for Chandler being the closest thing to a gay character – sorry Ross, but your attention to detail and effeminate tendencies don’t quite balance out your three heterosexual marriages. Consider Chandler again. Aside from the fact that he’s mistaken for gay in every season (including by every other character when they first meet him), his mother is an erotic novelist, his father is a drag queen played by Kathleen Turner, he knows all the songs from Oklahoma, he can recognise Miss Congeniality through a brick wall – his middle name is Muriel for Christ’s sake – and don’t even get me started on the alternative reading of Janice as a fag hag. Chandler, we’ll never quite catch what the hell you do for a living, but you are my favourite forever. (Ben Kelly)

Phoebe Buffay (played by Lisa Kudrow)

“If it’s a girl, Phoebe, if it’s a boy, Phoebo” – the exact sentiment with which I named my first pet. And sure enough, Phoebe the cat was as aloof and quirky and loveable as Phoebe Buffay, the ‘Friend’ we all strive to be and long to have.

Phoebe overcame hardships like her mother’s suicide, living on the streets at the age of 14, marrying a gay Canadian ice dancer only for him to leave her because he’s not really gay and loves someone else (Grande’s got it covered on album three), and coming out the other side with the edge that saw her mug Ross (yaaaaas). Phoebe shakes off her difficult upbringing to become an accomplished musician (Smelly Cat, Sticky Shoes,Little Black Curly Hair), artist (Gladys & Glynnis), masseuse, surrogate mother to her brother’s triplets and actual mother to rat babies. #inspirational

There are many sides to Phoebe Buffay: alter-ego Regina Phalange (original inspiration for Sasha Fierce, I heard), Princess Consuela Banana Hammock and the spirit of an 82-year-old massage client who dies on her table, to name a few. She also reigns superior in the bedroom compared with her otherwise vanilla friendship group. How many of us can say we didn’t question our sexuality just a little bit when Phoebe rips open her 90s velour blouse and utters those four words: “This is my bra.”

Phoebs was easy-going and undeniably cool; the one who had a whole bunch of friends on top of her coffee-shop clique. If she wasn’t at Central Perk she was off doing something typically ‘Phoebe’ with Marjorie or Leslie or the elusive Denise. When Monica wasn’t at Central Perk she was cleaning or crying or having shit sex with Chandler. And while Kudrow’s turn in The Comeback might not technically be a Friends spinoff, it’s a whole lot more watchable than Joey. (Aaron Toumazou)

Joey Tribbiani (played by Matt LeBlanc)

Seriously guys, science proves Joey’s worth, with Mr Tribbiani appearing in more scenes over the course of the show’s run than any other member of the gang (47.7% of them, for all you trivia boffins out there). And despite his escalating stupidity (“but it hurts my Joey’s Apple!”), Joey was always the kind-hearted, dependable centre of the group: from pretending to be a voyeuristic sex addict to safeguard Monica and Chandler’s secret relationship to not trying to unhook Rachel’s bra when he gave her a comforting hug that one time, Joey proved his loyalty time and time again.

Who can forget his burgeoning acting career, which brought us the joys of Estelle, being Al Pacino’s butt double and the glorious episode where he gets Monica to help him fashion an, erm, culturally accurate appendage out of turkey meat to land a role. If all that and the fact that his Days of Our Lives character undergoes a brain transplant with Susan Sarandon isn’t enough to convince you of Joey’s gay appeal, frankly nothing will.

And maybe I’m in the minority but I can’t be the only one who thinks that Rachel would have been better off with reliable Joey and not the controlling, neurotic mess that was Ross. For one thing, the scene where the pair go on a pretend date and show each other their ‘moves’ has more sexual chemistry than anything Rach achieved with the ‘Rossatron’ in a decade.

Yes, his eponymous spin-off series may have been a short-lived, awkward blemish on the series’ legacy, but it’s hard to imagine any of the other Friends managing to carry a show solo for the best part of 50 episodes. Because whether it’s Ultimate Fireball, racing the Chick and Duck with Phoebs or getting Monica’s Thanksgiving turkey stuck on his head, Joey’s dim-witted antics encapsulated the warmth that made Friendsresonate with audiences year after year. Just don’t go trying to share his food. (Will Stroude)

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